Sport Hurling

Friday 15 December 2017

McCarthy hails defiant display of Treaty men

Galway attacker Rory Gantley is reined in by Des Kenny of Limerick at Kilmallock yesterday BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
Galway attacker Rory Gantley is reined in by Des Kenny of Limerick at Kilmallock yesterday BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The exchange lasted little more than 20 seconds encompassing some 66 words including those from the lips of his inquisitors.

Justin McCarthy emerged from the Limerick dressing-room to give firm notice that his delivery would indeed be short. There is a brevity to his dialogue these days, not just with the players who firmly refuse to court his ways any more.

So off he went with a brief, well-rehearsed summary.

"We played very well, showed great heart, determination. Maybe if we got the penalty it could have changed the result but in fairness I was delighted with the way they competed."

"You defied a lot of people's expectations today?"

"I would say so, yeah."

"Happy with the support, big crowd?"

"Oh massive support, which was great."

"And in terms of your own position?"

"Ah now, now, now, now, now..."

And with that the great communicator was gone in the direction of Mike Fitzgerald's hostelry on Kilmallock's main street, a spring in his step and perhaps emboldened by quite a decent showing from his patchwork team.

They gave Galway plenty and a bit more. The crowd, around 3,500, warmed to them, appreciated their valour and heralded every body that was laid on the line.

At half-time they led by a point, 1-7 to 0-9, and John McIntyre must have been tempted to whip out the hair dryer in the opposing dressing-room.

Critical

Two minutes into the second half, the critical moment in McCarthy's estimation, saw Paudie McNamara drive a penalty too low, after Alan O'Connor had been tugged bearing down on goal, allowing James Skehill to parry. O'Connor did convert the subsequent '65' and for seven or eight more minutes Limerick continued to defy everyone's expectations.

McNamara restored the two-point lead on 45 minutes, 1-9 to 0-10, which was the trigger for Galway to offload the bench and get Iarla Tannian and Niall Healy into the game.

And the game pretty much fell into the pattern expected after that, Limerick tiring, Galway driving up the ante to pull well clear.

Still, a lot of Limerick people left Kilmallock happy. Taken in isolation a seven-point defeat represents an acceptable standard for this team. Would we have been surprised had a full-strength Limerick team coughed up a seven-point defeat to Galway in an opening round league match? Not really.

But there is only so much sustenance to be drawn from such moral victories. Defying the spread betters is one thing, convincing the wider Limerick sporting public that there is a future without so many protagonists is another matter entirely. More difficult days and nights surely lie ahead.

McIntyre offered good grace and perspective afterwards, quite rightly suggesting that their first game would always provide this Limerick team's most benign afternoon.

"In some ways this was their easiest fixture," he suggested. "What happened here today vindicates Justin McCarthy to some extent. They still lost the match and what happens now is up to the County Board and the people involved in Limerick hurling."

On the back of this performance those County Board members and clubs who are getting shifty on the idea of McCarthy continuing will surely keep a wide berth this week, leaving their swords in their scabbards for now.

McIntyre drew comparisons with Galway's trip to Pairc Ui Chaoimh in almost identical circumstances 12 months ago.

"There was no hint of complacency travelling to this game because this is a fixture that had danger written all over it. Cork's best performance last year under similar circumstances was against Tipperary in Thurles -- they carried no baggage into the game," McIntyre said.

"We expected this young Limerick side to have a right go at us and they did. We had to unload the bench to dig us out of trouble. It's two league points. I'll take it. The lads had to show a bit of character and they weren't found wanting, in fairness to them."

Galway remain unbeaten this season after plundering the Walsh Cup from Leinster and there's a sense that they have turned their vessel in the right direction. Five of the their first 15 were starting their first league match but the power of their bench and natural fatigue that set into Limerick legs effectively decided it.

Tony Og Regan dominated the middle channel impressively and once Damien Joyce and Shane Kavanagh rolled up their sleeves life became much more difficult for local lads Graeme Mulcahy, and Brian O'Sullivan and O'Connor and Cathal Mullane, who had pick-pocketed with success in the opening half.

It was Mullane's well-taken goal on 13 minutes that injected fresh impetus into the home side after Kavanagh had to stoop low to deny McNamara seconds earlier. Armed with a 1-2 to 0-3 advantage Limerick players crashed into every challenge with fearless abandon and won most of them.

Midfielder Paul Browne, one of the four survivors from the 2009 squad, was their most effective player, young Nicky Quaid offered great support and from that foundation Limerick had a foothold. Behind them centre-back Andrew Brennan hurled a lot of ball.

The half closed with a shot from one of Galway's five league debutants, Aidan Harte, being tipped over by goalkeeper Tadhg Flynn and rapturous applause from the home crowd as they made their way off the field.

Misfortune

There was a touch of misfortune about the concession of Galway's goal from Tannian on 55 minutes. Limerick full-back Des Kenny had blocked Joe Gantley's shot but the ball looped invitingly for Gantley to bat home and establish a 1-12 to 1-9 lead. After that the result was elementary.

Gantley had made an impact when he switched outfield and Galway were much more compact in the second half, affording themselves the luxury of seven wides. The return of former captain David Collins after two and a half years of inactivity was another notable milestone.

"We have to plough on from here -- we are still unbeaten this year in competitive hurling. It is not something to be crowing about but we'll take the win," offered McIntyre.

For McCarthy and Limerick there is life. But Cork are up next on Saturday night. Defiance and heart will only carry them so far.

Scorers -- Galway: G Farragher 0-6 (0-3f, 0-1 sl), I Tannian 1-2, C Donnellan 0-3, N Cahalan 0-2, T Og Regan (0-1f), D Burke, N Hayes, N Healy, A Harte 0-1 each. Limerick: A O'Connor 0-6 (4f, 1 65), C Mullane 1-0, G Mulcahy, B O'Sullivan 0-2 each, P McNamara 0-1.

Galway -- J Skehill; D Joyce, S Kavanagh, P Holland; D Barry, T Og Regan, K Hynes; G Farragher, N Cahalan; A Callanan, C Donnellan, D Burke; A Harte, J Gantley, N Hayes. Subs: F Moore for Holland (41), N Healy for Hayes (47), I Tannian for Harte (47), J Lee for Hynes (64), D Collins for Burke (69).

Limerick -- T Flynn; D Lynch, D Kenny, S O'Neill; L O'Dwyer, A Brennan, C King; N Quaid, P Browne; B O'Sullivan, A Owens, C Mullane; G Mulcahy, P McNamara, A O'Connor. Subs: T O'Brien for Owens (50), P Harty for Mullane (64), D Madden for Quaid (64).

Ref -- C McAllister (Cork).

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